BOISE -- Testimony is finished up in a huge anti-trust lawsuit pitting two of Idaho's biggest health care providers.
Saint Alphonsus Health System, Treasure Valley Hospital, the Idaho Attorney General's Office, and the Federal Trade Commission are suing St. Luke's over their acquisition of the doctor-owned Saltzer Medical Group last December.
"The Attorney General alleged that the acquisition of the Saltzer Group violates federal and state anti-trust law," said Brett DeLange, Deputy Attorney General of Idaho.
DeLange says over the past month in court, he and his team proved that this move substantially lessens competition, and creates a monopoly for St. Luke's in Nampa (an 80 percent market share). They want the whole thing reversed.
"We've never seen it as an opportunity to increase prices," said Christine Neuhoff, Vice President and General Counsel for St. Luke's Health System. "We've never seen it as an opportunity to eliminate competition."
Neuhoff says the move doesn't create a monopoly. Rather, she made the argument in court that it's a partnership to provide better care at lower costs through an integrated delivery system.
She also says Saltzer came to them, "We haven't been approaching physician groups. People get the impression that St. Luke's must be out knocking on doors, trying to get people to join up, and that really is not our approach, at all."
After closing arguments on November 7, Judge B. Lynn Winmill will make a decision that will affect health care in Nampa, and the entire Treasure Valley for years to come.
Neuhoff says, "We viewed it as a partnership with a group of physicians who really have the best interests of their patients and the community in mind. Which is, of course, what St. Luke's is about."
DeLange says, "We're all in favor of lower health care costs. We're all in favor of improved health care. That's good for all of us. What we've alleged is that you don't need to buy up all the doctors, or buy up market-power to do that sort of thing."
Saint Alphonsus filed an injunction last year to try to stop the acquisition, but the judge denied it. Also, the Attorney General asked Saint Luke's to delay the acquisition while they conducted their investigation, so if the judge ruled in opposition to the move, there wouldn't be as much to undo. However, St. Luke's went forward, saying, they didn't do anything wrong.
The judge's decision is expected in December.
We should also point out that both Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke's are not-for-profit hospitals.